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I was a big fan of the original live incarnation of Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama, and had heard there had been a manga and cartoon. Apart from two articles about the manga, I have never seen it. I had also not seen the cartoon, as it never made it to the US. Well, thanks to the internet and youtube, I have seen the first half dozen (of 105) episodes(in Italian!). The first thing that comes to mind is, man is this show violent! However, what little I saw of the manga was equally violent.
The series tells the story of Naoto Date, an orphan (who is fixated on tigers)who ran away to become a wrestler. he is trained by the notorious Tiger Cave organization, which produces the most brutal wrestlers in the world, in exchange for half of their earnings. Date eventually becomes Tiger Mask, one of the most feared wrestlers in the game. After a long stint in America, he returns to Japan to wrestle. While there, he is inspired to visit the orphanage he came from. It is now being run by one of his former friends and is in trouble with some crooks. Meanwhile, Tiger Mask is terrorizing the Japanese ring. Things come to a head, when Tiger Mask hears another orphan boy say he wants to be a villain, like Tiger Mask. Naoto, faced with the terror he sees from fans and with the lengths he went to get there realizes that he doesn't want to see another child become like him. He starts to change, providing money to keep the orphanage going. However, he also finds himself at odds with the Tiger Cave. He refuses to have anything more to do with them and now finds himself the target of the organization's heels. He must face each one in succession, each more vicious than the last.
The series mixes long dialogue scenes with violent action in the ring. As in the manga, actual Japanese and foreign wrestlers appear, though the likenesses leave a lot to be desired. Giant Baba, the star of and promoter of All-Japan wrestling is a central figure in Naoto's turn into a heroic wrestler, while stars like Antonio Inoki, Jack Brisko, Baron Scicluna, Freddie Blassie (complete with filed teeth!)and The Destroyer appear as themselves.
The story is engaging and the action plays well, though it becomes somewhat formulaic. The matches get wilder as things progress.
The series and the original manga proved popular enough that Antonio Inoki's New Japan Pro Wrestling licensed the character to create a live version, portrayed by Sayama, who had gained experience in Mexico and the UK, before coming back to Japan. he became the centerpiece to lively matches with some of the best high flying wrestlers in the world, with legendary bouts against the Dynamite Kid, Black Tiger (Mrc "Rollerball" Rocco), Kuniaki Kobayashi, Gran Hamada, Villano III, and Steve Wright (not the comedian, but an English wrestler, who is the father of Das Wunderkind Alex Wright, from WCW fame). It would lead to a second cartoon, Tiger Mask II.
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